Details unsealed in Gingerella's fatal Groton shooting

Details of the Dec. 11 shooting death of 24-year-old Joey Gingerella were unsealed Tuesday when the man accused of killing him appeared for the first time in the New London court where major crimes are heard.

Dante A. Hughes, 30, of Groton, who was brought back from Canada last month to face charges of murder, third-degree assault and breach of peace, was led before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein in a yellow prison jumpsuit. 

Public Defender Kevin C. Barrs stood with Hughes for the brief proceeding, but Hughes, who is being held in lieu of $550,000 cash at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville, said he is planning to hire a private attorney. The judge continued the case until Jan. 31.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Paul J. Narducci, who will be prosecuting, said the state could see no reason to keep arrest warrant affidavits in the case sealed, but warned the large assembly of friends and family who had gathered on behalf of both the victim and Hughes that any attempt to influence witnesses would be considered a crime, and that interference could inhibit both the state and defense.

On one side of the courtroom, Gingerella's survivors sniffled and wiped away tears throughout the hearing. His stepfather, newly elected state Rep. Joseph de la Cruz, wore Gingerella's baseball shirt from Fitch Senior High School and sat in the front row with Gingerella's mother, Tammy de la Cruz, and sister Kayla Gingerella. Behind them sat several members of Community Speaks Out, the nonprofit group the couple founded in response to Gingerella's addiction to opioid painkillers. The family met after the hearing with Victim Advocate Beth Ann Hess. 

Hughes supporters sat on the other side of the courtroom. Before court opened, Hughes' mother warned the group not to laugh and reminded them that someone had lost his life. When led into the courtroom by judicial marshals, Hughes looked toward his family before turning to face the judge.

Witnesses in the case include Hughes' girlfriend, Latoya S. Knight, the 34-year-old woman he allegedly was beating when Gingerella intervened and allegedly was shot by Hughes. Groton Town Police charged Knight, of 4 Waco Court, with interfering with police on Dec. 13, claiming she attempted to mislead police about Hughes' identity at the scene. According to an affidavit, Knight denied any involvement in a physical altercation with Hughes, saying her bloody nose was the result of excessive crying. She also denied any knowledge of Hughes' involvement in the shooting. She is free on a $25,000 surety bond and is due to appear in the same court on Wednesday.

The unsealed affidavits indicate witnesses to the shooting provided slightly different versions of the incident when interviewed by town police.

Ryan's Pub bartender Rachel Smith said a couple, later identified as Hughes and Knight, entered the Fort Hill Road bar about 1:25 a.m., just before Smith announced last call for alcohol and locked the front door. Smith said Knight looked as if she had been crying. She said the couple ordered drinks and went to the area near the pool table, where Knight asked Hughes for the car keys, slapped the beer out of his hand and went outside. Smith said she grabbed Hughes' arm to try to stop him from following Knight outside because she was concerned he would hurt Knight. She said he pulled away and walked out.

The bartender said Gingerella and two other patrons, John Hoyt and Andrew Flynn, followed the couple into the parking lot to make sure Knight was safe. Smith said she looked out the side door and could see people pushing and shoving each other, then returned to the bar. She said another customer, Elvira Gonzalez, who was outside smoking, ran in and asked her to call 911 after hearing three gunshots. Smith said she called the police and went toward the parking lot, where she saw a man, later identified as Hughes, walking toward Fort Hill Road, according to the affidavit.

Gonzalez told police she had heard Smith, the bartender, asking Gingerella to follow the fighting couple outside to make sure the woman, later identified as Knight, was OK. Gonzalez said she went to the side door and yelled for Gingerella to come back inside, then asked Flynn to get Gingerella. She said she could see Gingerella standing in front of Hughes and Flynn standing next to Gingerella. Gonzalez said she couldn't see the female (Knight), but thought she was sitting in a nearby car. She said she heard three gunshots coming from the area and ran into the bar to tell the bartender to call 911. She went outside to check on Gingerella, who she said was lying on the ground and bleeding from an upper arm, leg and abdomen.

Hoyt said he had asked Hughes for rolling papers inside the bar and that Hoyt gave him a page that had been torn out of a Bible. Hoyt said he went outside to smoke a cigarette with Gingerella and that when they heard a commotion near the back of the building and saw Knight sitting in her car, a Nissan Armada SUV, with the door open, Hoyt said Hughes was punching Knight in the face and with Gingerella behind him, trying to assist, he grabbed Hughes around the chest and wrist in an attempt to stop the beating. Hoyt said he let go of Hughes, who started walking away, and went to check on the female when he heard three gunshots. He said he turned around, saw Hughes holding a handgun "up in the air." Hoyt said he saw Gingerella fall to the ground, and as he began to help him, Hughes walked away in the direction of Fort Hill Road.

Flynn told police he went out to smoke when he saw Gingerella and the man later identified as Hughes "in a dispute" near the rear corner of the building. He said he stepped in to separate Gingerella and Hughes, placing his hands on their chests to push them apart, when he heard three gunshots. He said Hughes ran toward Fort Hill Road in the direction of the nearby Poquonnock Bridge neighborhood. Gingerella, lying on the ground bleeding, was trying to speak, but Flynn could not make out what he was saying. Flynn said Gingerella's lips turned gray and he became silent.

Knight, who was in her car when police arrived, told Officer Robert Saracina that she had gone to Ryan's Pub to meet friends and decided to leave after they didn't show up. She agreed to let Saracina see her cellphone. When Saracina asked her about a photo of a man who appeared to match the shooter's description, Knight said it was the person who did the shooting but identified him as Justin Davenport of Norwich, according to the affidavit. Saracina showed the picture to other members of the town police department, and officer Marvel Bennett recognized Hughes from recent contact with police. Knight admitted the person in the photograph was Hughes and began to cry, according to the affidavit.

In the hours after the shooting, police surrounded and searched the home at 4 Waco Court but did not capture Hughes. He was arrested two days later, after he attempted to cross into Canada via the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y., according to police.

Once he retains an attorney, Hughes will notify the court whether he wants a probable cause hearing. As a defendant in a murder case, Hughes is entitled to such a hearing. On Tuesday, he waived the 60-day time limit for the hearing, at which the prosecution would call witnesses in an attempt to convince the court there is enough evidence to move forward with the case.

k.florin@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments